It would not be out of place to state that Nigerian journalists constitute one of the most resolute breeds in the world given the environment and circumstances in which they have found themselves in the application of their trade.
This doggedness of the Nigerian journalists which dates back to the Colonial and post independence period boasts of personalities of the likes of late Nnamdi Azikiwe, late Obafemi Awolowo, late Ernest Ikoli and of recent, the late Dele Giwa, among others.
A cursory cruise down memory lane would leave no one in doubt about the exploits of our past veterans who struck out their necks in the use of the pen to fight social injustices at the time.
No doubt, today, with the advent of information technology holding sway as far as literature is concerned, many of our citizens have access to the activities of those journalists who made the trade tick in those days.
It is against this backdrop that the recent efforts of the League of Veteran Journalists (LVJ), Rivers State chapter to immortalise their very own calls for adequate dose of commendation from individuals and corporate organisations across the land.
While addressing guests at the first memorial lecture for the late Wonukwuru Obasiolu, the State President of the LVJ, Chief Wofuru Okparaolu enumerated the former’s achievements whom he said used the power of the pen for the purpose of advancing the emancipation of the people in this part of the country.
“We are gathered here to do honour to whom honour is due. This memorial lecture, the first in the series of lectures in memory of Late Wonukwuru Obasiolu is being hosted by the League of Veteran Journalists in Rivers State, to remember a man who would also have been a leader of this league, if he had been alive”.
Of course, it could be stated here without any fear of contradication that the average Ikwerre man, nay Rivers man may not have heard the name of the late Obasiolu, not to talk of his exploits, and this is where the wisdom of the LVJ, Rivers State chapter comes into play.
According to records, the late Obasiolu who was born in 1935 in the Ekinigbo community of Apara Kingdom of Obio/Akpor local government area of Rivers State had his primary education at Holy Trinity, Rumuapara and later went to Teacher Training College, Nsulu, Mbawsi, Abia State.
The late Obasiolu who had a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1967 was known to be an orator of no mean repute who held his listeners spell bound at events.
Accrding to the LVJ President, the late Obasiolu was a patriot who stood for the unity of the country and distanced himself from those who stood for secession through the power of his pen.
However, while the late veteran journalist was sojourning at Aluu, pro-seessionist soldiers who were not comfortable with his stand took him to Igwuruta where he was brutally murdered in cold blood. Those who witnessed the deed said he was taken away openly, tortured and killed. By his death, he has now become a legend among our people.
It was further learnt that the late Obasiolu met his end due to his daring nature. “His mission in journalism in the first place was to assert his independence and diversity – sometimes even his strong headedness lies in the public’s best protection against his excesses,” Okparaolu added.
As an outstanding journalist, the late Obasiolu was able to bring his creativity to bear in the area of transmitting information to his audience which, in no small way influenced the manner in which the society perceived reality.
At this juncture, it is important to state that this is the time for government at various levels to create an enabling environment to ease the onerous task of the journalists. This is because most journalists and other great men who were killed were victims because they were regarded as deviants in a society which hates and fears the freedom and diversity of choices preached by those who were murdered in the past by holding strongly to their non-conformist views.
For instance, recently, an Abuja High Court was reported to have ordered news reporters to file out one by one from its court and those who refused were arrested and hand-cuffed, while in Enugu state, two Magistrate Courts banned journalists from covering their court sessions, a situation which has made jouranlists across the nation to become endangered species while those not yet fallen by assassins’ bullets have become targets of death threats.
From the ugly scenario, it has now become imperative for the authorities to provide better welfare packages for our journalists while the National Assembly should expedite action on the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill to forestall the use of incorrect facts, half truths, and exaggerated assertion from news sources at their disposal.
Even the government has a crucial role to play particularly during crises period in letting the people know the true situation, to avoid misinforming the public, like the situation during the Jos crises when the official and unofficial figures of the dead were conflicting.
This is so important because there might be a time in our national development when truth would be needed to serve our national interest. Journalists and their employers also have a role to play in the conduct of their personal affairs to avoid conflict of interest as the responsibility of the journalist to the public should not be compromised.
Finally, it is imperative that the media should pay attention more than it has ever done to retain some of the talented men and women who have so far proven themselves to have brought into the profession mature judgment and experienced leadership, for this constitutes the path way to the nobility of the journalism profession.